Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman

Buster Keaton and Marceline Day

The 2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival concludes this year on Sunday, July 15, with a 7:30 pm screening of Buster Keaton’s 1928 comedy triumph The Cameraman.  I’ll be signing my three books in the upstairs lobby beginning at 6:30 (one of the many author events sponsored by Books Inc.), so stop by and say hello.

Set in New York, but filmed mostly in Hollywood, The Cameraman was Keaton’s last silent feature production, and his first film for his new studio, M-G-M.  Buster plays a tintype photographer, selling portraits on the sidewalk, who longs to become a newsreel cameraman in order to impress Sally (played by Marceline Day), a receptionist for the Hearst Newsreel Company.  While I cover the New York and Hollywood locations more extensively in my Keaton book Silent Echoes, here are a few fun discoveries.  (See my more recent post for a new Manhattan discovery HERE).

Early in the film, Buster leaps aboard a moving fire truck at the iconic intersection of Hollywood and Vine, with the stately Taft Building standing in the background.

This circa 1934 aerial view of Hollywood (below) shows the path (arrow) of Keaton’s fire truck at Hollywood and Vine (1), and later its path as it travels north up Cahuenga towards Hollywood Boulevard (2), before turning left into the former Hollywood fire station (4).   The parking lot across from the fire station (3) is where Buster stows his pet cow Brown Eyes during his feature comedy Go West (1925), and the alley up the street (5) is where a passing car whisks Buster away one-handed during Cops (1922).

Click to enlarge.  HollywoodPhotographs.com

(1) Hollywood and Vine; (2) up Cahuenga; (3) the Go West parking lot; (4) the fire station interior; (5) the Cops alleyway.

You can see more about early filming on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood on my prior post  Chaplin – Keaton – Lloyd – One Block in Silent-Era Hollywood.

Jumping to New York, when Sally calls Buster to tell him her plans have changed, and she is free to see him, Buster dashes up 5th Avenue from W 55th Street, and arrives at her apartment before she can hang up the phone.  Later, Buster and Sally stroll along the same block.

During one of the few scenes filmed on location in New York, Buster races north up 5th Avenue from the corner of W 55th Street.  To the far right stands the 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church.  The spires in the center right background, my original clue to identifying this scene, belong to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the 11th largest church in the world.  In the modern view below the spires are blocked by glass skyscrapers.

You can see more of Buster Keaton filming in New York in my prior post, Harold – Buster – and Bergdorf Goodman – NYC Then and Now.

The Venice Plunge interior, as it appears during the film.

Another notable location appearing in The Cameraman is the Venice Plunge (now lost), the large indoor swimming pool located beside the former Abbot Kinney Pier, where Buster and Sally go on a date.  Charlie Chaplin filmed beside the Venice Plunge in 1915 for his short comedy By The Sea.

The front of the Venice Plunge.  Security Pacific National Bank Photograph Collection/Los Angeles Public Library

Buster beside the extant home at 2234 Channel Road in Newport Beach.

The conclusion of The Cameraman was filmed in Newport Beach in Orange County.  The extant Newport Beach Pavilion appears in one early shot.  The boat race was staged near the south end of  Newport Bay.   The oval in this aerial view below shows where the speed boat runs in a circle.  The blue dot below show where Buster captures the speed boat on camera, standing before the extant home at 2234 Channel Road, appearing behind Buster during the scenes (at left).

Buster stood near the blue dot above, filming across the channel towards Bayside Drive, as the speed boat races in a circle (oval above). (C) 2012 Microsoft Corporation, Pictometry Bird’s Eye (c) 2012 Pictometry International Corp.

The Cameraman images (C) 1928 Turner Entertainment Co.

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2 Responses to Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman

  1. Pingback: Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman | The Bioscope | Scoop.it

  2. Pingback: More Buster in Manhattan – The Cameraman, Part II | Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd film locations (and more)

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